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Chaplains

Bergin, Michael, 1879-1917, Jesuit priest and chaplain

  • IE IJA/CHP/1
  • Person
  • 18 August 1879-11 October 1917

WW1 Chaplain

Born 18 August 1879, Fancroft, Co Offaly
Entered 07 September 1897, Tullabeg
Ordained 1911
Professed 17 November 1916
Died 11 October 1917, Passchendaele, Belgium (Australian 51st Battalion) - Lugdunensis Province (LUGD)
Buried at the Reningelst Churchyard Cemetery, Belgium

Transcribed HIB to LUGD : 01 January 1901

by 1901 in Saint Stanislaus, Ghazir, Beirut, Syria (LUGD) Teacher and studying Arabic
by 1904 in Saint Joseph’s, Beirut, Syria (LUGD) teaching

Michael Bergin (1879-1917), Jesuit priest and military chaplain, was born in August 1879 at Fancroft, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Michael Bergin, mill-owner, and his wife Mary, née Hill. Educated at the local convent school and the Jesuit College at Mungret, Limerick, he entered the Jesuit noviceship at Tullabeg in September 1897. Two years later he was sent to the Syrian mission where English-speakers were needed; he felt the break from home and country very keenly but became absorbed in his missionary work and the exotic customs of the local peoples. After learning Arabic and French he studied philosophy at Ghazir, and in October 1904 began teaching at the Jesuit College in Beirut.

In 1907 Bergin was sent to Hastings, England, to complete his theology studies and was ordained priest on 24 August 1910. After a short time at home he returned to Hastings for further study and then gave missions and retreats in the south of England. He returned to the Middle East in January 1914 and was in charge of Catholic schools near Damascus until the outbreak of World War I; along with other foreigners in Syria, he was then imprisoned and later expelled by the Turkish government. By the time he reached the French Jesuit College in Cairo in January 1915 the first Australian troops had arrived in Egypt, and Bergin offered to assist the Catholic military chaplains. Though still a civilian, he was dressed by the men in the uniform of a private in the Australian Imperial Force and when the 5th Light Horse Brigade left for Gallipoli he went with it. Sharing the hardships of the troops, he acted as priest and stretcher-bearer until his official appointment as chaplain came through on 13 May 1915. He remained at Anzac until September when he was evacuated to the United Kingdom with enteric fever.

Bergin's arrival home in khaki, complete with emu feather in his slouch-hat, caused a sensation among his family and friends. Though tired and weak after his illness, he was anxious to get back to his troops for Christmas. He returned to Lemnos but was pronounced unfit and confined to serving in hospitals and hospital-ships. Evacuated to Alexandria in January 1916, he worked in camps and hospitals in Egypt and in April joined the 51st Battalion, A.I.F., at Tel-el-Kebir. He accompanied it to France and served as a chaplain in all its actions in 1916-17; these included the battles of Pozières and Mouquet Farm, the advance on the Hindenburg Line and the battle of Messines. He was killed at Passchendaele on 11 October 1917 when a heavy shell burst near the aid-post where he was working. He was buried in the village churchyard at Renninghelst, Belgium.

Bergin was awarded the Military Cross posthumously. The citation praised his unostentatious but magnificent zeal and courage. Though he had never seen Australia he was deeply admired by thousands of Australian soldiers, one of whom referred to him as 'a man made great through the complete subordination of self'.

J. Eddy, 'Bergin, Michael (1879–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bergin-michael-5217/text8783, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 March 2020.

Doyle, Willie, 1873-1917, Jesuit priest and chaplain

  • IE IJA J/2
  • Person
  • 3 March 1873-16 August 1917

Born: 03 March 1873, Dalkey, County Dublin
Entered: 31 March 1891, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 28 July 1907, Milltown Park
Professed: 02 February 1909
Died :16 August 1917, Ypres, Belgium

HIB Menologies SJ :
Educated by the Rosminians at Ratcliffe, Leicstershire, England.
After First Vows he studied Philosophy at Enghien and Stonyhurst.
He was then sent for Regency teaching at Belvedere College SJ, and later also as a Prefect at Clongowes Wood College SJ.
1904 He was sent for Theology to Milltown Park, Dublin and was ordained there after three years.
1905 He was sent to Drongen, Belgium for Tertianship.
He then became Minister at Belvedere, and was put on the Mission Staff, where he displayed outstanding qualities, especially as an orator in the pulpit.

He was something of a literary person as well. He founded the “Clongownian”, wrote regularly in the “Messenger” and wrote some booklets and a life of the French Jesuit Paul Ginhac.

In the early years of the Great War he volunteered for service as a Military Chaplain. 15 November 1915 he wrote “Received my appointment from the War Office as Chaplain to the 16th Division”. 01 January 1916 He moved with his regiment (8th Royal Irish Fusiliers) from Whitely to Bordon. he remained with this group until he was killed 16 or 17 August 1917 near Ypres.

Notice in the “Irish Independent” 25 August 1917 :
“When Irish troops advanced at Ginchy, Father Doyle was in the thick of the fighting ministering to the wounded, and for conspicuous bravery then, was awarded the Military Cross. The story of his Priestly devotion in the advance at the Zonnebeke River, when he met his death while administering the Last Sacraments to his stricken countrymen, has been borne testimony to alike by Northern Orangemen and Catholic Nationalists, and it is admitted by all who witnessed his courage and indifference to danger that his heroism will rank among the great unselfish, self-sacrificing deeds of the war.”
Mr Percival Phillips writing on his death in the “Morning Post” :
“The Orange will not forget a certain Catholic Chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. he went forward and back on the battlefield, with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give the Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe, until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a Saint - they speak his name with tears.”
Sir Philip Gibbs KBE wrote :
“All through the worst hours and Irish Padre went about among the dead and dying giving Absolution to his boys. Once he came back to HQ, but would not take a bite of food or stay, though his friends urged him. he went back to the field to minister to those who were glad to see him bending over them in their last agony. Four men were killed by shell fire as he knelt beside them, and he was not touched - until his own turn came. A shell burst close and the Padre fell dead.”
A Soldier writing :
“Father Willie was more than a priest to them, and if any man was loved by the men it was he, who certainly risked every danger to try and do good for their bodies as well as their souls.
A Fellow Chaplain wrote 15 August 1917 :
“Father Doyle is a marvel. They may talk of heroes and Saints, they are hardly in it. he sticks it to the end - shells, gas, attack. The first greeting to me of a man from another battalion, who had only known Father Doyle by sight was ‘Father Doyle deserves the VG more than any man who ever wore it. We cannot get him away from where the men are. If he is not with his own, he is in with us. The men would not stick half of it were it not for him. If we give him an orderly, he sends the man back. He doesn't wear a tin hat, he is always so cheery’.”
An Officer writing :
“Father Doyle never rests, night and day. he finds a dead or dying man, does all he can, comes back smiling, makes a little cross, goes out and buries him. It would be the proudest moment of my life if I could only call him VC.”
(cf Father William Doyle SJ, by Professor Alfred O’Rahilly ISBN 9782917813041)